Immersed in the groove
By Ylan Q. Mui
Friday, August 13, 2010
You already know the basic plot of "Step Up 3D": Boy meets girl. Girl breaks his heart. Everybody dances it out and, oh yeah, competes in a high-stakes dance battle against a villainous rival crew and learns the true meaning of friendship in the process.
It's the same premise as almost every dance movie and "So You Think You Can Dance" confessional. The cheese factor is definitely there. But "Step Up 3D" director Jon Chu largely breezes through the plot with a few cliches, intense stares and occasional one-liners, so we won't spend too much time on it either. The main reason to see "Step Up 3D" is for the high-energy dancing and innovative camerawork, and on those points it delivers.
Scrawny moptop Moose (Adam Sevani), who reprises his role from "Step Up 2: The Streets," launches into the first dance sequence just minutes after the movie begins, with his parents dropping him and BFF Camille (Alyson Stoner returning from "Step Up 2") for freshman orientation at New York University. Moose has renounced what his dad calls "that dance thing" and declared engineering as his major. But before you can say graphing calculator, he follows a pair of gunmetal Nike hightops that lead him into a battle with bad boy crew the Samurais. And thus he falls into a fantastical world of underground dance.
A crew called the Pirates takes in Sevani, who then lives and trains with them inside a vast warehouse known as the Vault, complete with padded walls for practicing running flips, a room of vintage boomboxes and a graffiti studio. The Vault is run by Luke (Rick Malambri), leader of the Pirates, who is five months behind on his mortgage payments and is counting on the winning the $100,000 grand prize at the World Jamz dance battle to pay back the bank.
Here, dance does not provide a dose of reality but an escape from it -- more Hogwarts than Harlem -- a place for misfit dance geeks to kick-ball-change to their hearts' content. (The cast includes several SYTYCD alums, notably Stephen "tWitch" Boss.)
Chu has likened the movie to an action flick, and at times the aggressively acrobatic choreography feels more like martial arts than dance. There is such a thing as too much movement, and good dancing involves more than landing five handsprings and then spinning on your head, as impressive as that may be. It's about finding a groove or milking a simple movement that can get lost amid the roundhouse kicks and b-boy freezes.
That's why one of the most interesting dance sequences involves Moose and Camille blithely skipping through the streets of New York, popping through taxi cabs and flopping onto trash bags of styrofoam peanuts in choreography that recalls Gene Kelly. A sultry tango between Luke and his secretive ladyfriend, Natalie (Sharni Vinson), also stands out, while a couple of tweens working it out on a Dance, Dance Revolution-style game get props mainly for being so freaking cute.
That said, the Pirates' final dance sequence is mind-blowing, with spectacular use of props and lights. Chu uses 3D to full effect, putting the viewer in the middle of the battle. The jumps are high, the movements sharp and the choreography heart-pounding -- just as the grand finale to a dance movie should be.
By the end of the film, Sevani finds that pair of gunmetal Nike hightops that led him down this rabbit hole. And it's safe to say that both he and the movie have earned their kicks.
Contains brief strong language, dirty dancing and many half shirts.